I landed my first job when I began the seventh grade. It wasn’t much as far as pay goes. I delivered 98 newspapers to homeowners on a daily basis.
I began after school and I took my collections on Thursday evenings. I made my rounds at the start of twilight, and if I was lucky, I earned a few extra dollars in tips.
Some of the customers were nice. They gave me a “See you next week,” smile before they closed their front door.
Some never answered the door to begin with. But I knew they were home. I knew because I could see them run away through the curtains in their window and I heard their television playing in the background.
After school, I ran home, and then I ran over to the distributor to retrieve my papers. And while I was tossing newspapers on people’s doorsteps, my friends were having fun. At least, I imagined they were.
When I finished, I went home to wash the printer’s ink from my hands. I thought about the fun I probably missed. I thought about the other kids my age and what they did after school.
It was not long before I lost interest. I made mistakes and skipped deliveries, which led to complaint calls to the distribution manager. However, after a physical altercation between myself and another paperboy, I was struck in the face by the paperboy’s father.
After which, my older brother introduced himself to distribution manager, and after a few minor threats, and after the manager apologized several times while hiding beneath his desk, my time as a paperboy was finished.
I did not take another job until the beginning of eight grade.
This time, I worked in a luncheonette on Merrick Avenue. The luncheonette was owned by an old man named Irving. He was a heavy smoker with long, yellowing fingernails.
He was far from friendly, and when he spoke, he spoke through his teeth that were clenched on the plastic mouthpiece of a slim Tiparillo cigar.
After school, I reported to the luncheonette and I cleaned the kitchen. I cleaned the grill, then I washed the dishes. After the dishes, I swept and mopped the floor, and after the floor, I wiped down the long counter where the customers sat, and then I wiped the tops of the black-covered stools.
They were counter stools with footrests at the bottom. The round seat was on top of a stainless steel pedestal; the top of it was covered in black vinyl, and the side of the seat was also steel. The seat spun around in circles, but Irving hated when customers spun them.
He would yell, “THAT’S NOT A TOY! THAT’S A SEAT, GOD DAMMIT!”
Then he would mumble, “Son of a bitch,” with his Tiparillo cigar still clenched in his teeth
As I worked, I listened to Irving complain. I listened to him yell at the customers, and though I worked there, I never received anything for free. He changed me for everything . . . but I have to admit, his chocolate egg creams were well worth it.
I felt out of place and forgotten. I could see the sun go down through the front windows. I watched the neighborhood kids run passed the storefront and I thought about the life I was probably missing.
On occasion, someone I knew would come in. They would wave to me and I would wave back.
When they left, they would say, “I’ll see you around,” and I would answer, “Yeah, see you around.”
But that was it for my after school social life.
Irving paid me$3.50 an hour. I was off the books, however, I never worked too many hours so my pay was not much.
Eventually, Irving let me come in on Saturday mornings to do his newspaper inserts. I would put the inserts together and get them ready for Sunday’s delivery. I would listen to Irving shout at his customers and listen to the sizzle of his grill.
Irving smoked while he cooked. There was always a long ash hanging from the tip of his cigar, but miraculously, the ash never fell in the food.
The time moved slowly, and while I worked, I wondered about the life I was missing.
My Old Man would say, “It’s good that you work. It will teach you responsibility.”
I would tell him, “But I miss out on seeing my friends, Pop.”
The Old Man would answer, “The hell with your friends. They’re all troublemakers anyway!”
And he was right about that.
Eventually, my need to learn responsibility was overtaken by my need to fit in, and have a social life.
So I quit.
I tried working at a bagel place—but that didn’t work out.
I had already begun my drug career and I would often arrive at work with bloodshot eyes that were half-closed and a smile that never went away.
I entered a phase of hallucinogenic drugs and I quickly learned that the chemical reactions from LSD or mescaline do not go well with doughy substances that stuck to my fingers.
I would have to clean the large mixer, which was a large bin with two steel arms that tumbled the dough. The bin would echo when I slammed the scraper along its inner walls. As it was, my hearing was distorted because of the drugs—but inside the bin, the sounds were too bizarre for me to process.
I cannot recall if I was fired or I quit. I think the split between the bagel shop and myself was mutual. I also think the owner’s believed I was mentally ill. But I wasn’t . . . I was just a stupid kid.
When I was at work, I thought about the fun I was missing while swinging a mop across a tiled floor. I thought about my friends and I wondered what they were doing while I was throwing out garbage or cleaning the inside of a filthy bathroom.
I never made much money at the bagel place. In fact, I made more money selling hits of mescaline and LSD.
So I quit because I didn’t want to feel like I was missing out on all the fun.
Too bad the fun almost killed me . . .
In an effort to settle some of the disputes in my home and to keep from punishment, I tried for another job. This time, I worked at McDonald’s. The manager hired me because he knew my older brother. He was also afraid of my older brother, which was good, because the manager was afraid to discipline me.
I was well behaved at first. And by, “At first,” I suppose I behaved for the first week. I was behaved until I began to lose interest. And while I threw out the trash, or gave service with a smile to hungry customers, my friends were having fun. I was flipping burgers, and my friends were making memories.
In all honesty, I did not fit the McDonald’s profile very well. My hair was long and down passed my shoulders. I was told to tuck my hair underneath my hat, but I never listened.
Eventually, my need to fit in and be wild overtook my need to settle disputes with my mother and father. I would arrive at work late, and usually, my eyes were bloodshot and half-closed. I smelled from marijuana smoke, cigarettes, and sometimes booze.
I was only 15 years-old and I thought I knew it all
One day, I decided to take a few tabs of LSD while in school.
After school, I went home to change into my uniform. I stopped at Prospect Park on my way to work and said hello to some of my friends.
As my friends passed me the pipe to further alter my perception, they laughed about my McDonald’s uniform. They laughed about me working and they laughed that management made me tuck my long hair underneath my hat.
I joked to defend myself. “I’m sure I’ll get fired soon.
And I made certain this prediction would come true.
My need to fit and have fun overtook my need to work—but I was already dressed in my uniform—so I had to go in.
The manager was able to see that I was not well that day. At first, I was put to work in the drive-thru, however, my eyesight was too distorted with hallucinations. I could not focus on the cash register, and each time I tried to handle money, I grew confused.
I was too paranoid, so when the customers arrived at the drive-thru window, I stuffed the bag with several different burgers and orders of fries.
When they complained, “This isn’t what I ordered,” I screamed at them. “Just go. Drive away! Drive away now!” and the reaction from the customers was undoubtedly priceless.
My pupils were large black holes in the center of my eyes. I had drool dangling from my bottom lip and my smile seemed deranged, as if I had just enjoyed the demented torture of someone or something.
It was not long before the manager removed me from the drive-thru and put me on fry detail, which was much worse.
French fries to someone on LSD look like frozen worms being dropped into a vat of heated oil.
And when the fries were done, I poured them into a shiny metal bin beside the fryer.
The fries were no longer white and frozen—they were golden brown worms that wiggled as I poured salt over them.
I assume my reaction to this was strange because it was not long until the manager took me off fry detail. Next, he sent me downstairs to clean out the stockroom.
“I have to get you away from the customers,” he told me.
I walked down the narrow steps and then I turned down the hallway. Upon entering the stockroom, I noticed there were several large tanks filled with helium. So of course, I took my turn inhaling and speaking in a strange voice. I kept going until I passed out, knocking down the large canisters of helium, and making enough noise to alert the manager.
When I regained consciousness, I noticed the manager was standing over me.
He said, “I think it might be better if you went home now. You can come back tomorrow if you want to, just do me a favor and don’t tell your brother . . . I don’t want him to get mad at me.”
It was fun then . . . everything was a joke . . . until I was sent to work with The Old Man.
That was no joke at all. I lost the luxury of quitting because I couldn’t quit. I could be punished. I could work harder jobs, but quitting was not an option.
“Not if you want to live in my house,” said The Old Man.
“You’ll see. One day all the fun and games are going to stop. And where will your friends be then?”
The Old Man shouted, “Bills don’t care if you miss your friends or if you want to go out and have a good time. They only care if they get paid. Like it or not; everyone has to work. Period. End of Sentence,” and then he sent me off to climb inside of a filthy heating system.
This morning, I woke up before the sun and made my way to fill a 12 hour shift at work. The jobs I have are not difficult. They are just time consuming and slow.
As I write this, I wonder about the life I am missing. I suppose my daughter is somewhere playing with her friends. My two dogs are probably resting on the couch in my home. My wife is probably sitting between them, and here I am . . . stuck on a standby shift.
It is currently 71 degrees in New York City. The skies are clear and this morning’s sunrise was absolutely beautiful. There are places I would rather be and things I would rather do—but like The Old Man said, “Bills don’t care if I want to be somewhere else.”
So it’s back to work.
Last night, my wife told me, “You need to have more confidence, because someday, someone will come along and this writing thing will take off.”
I hope she is right –
because I hate working on Sundays.